Toronto Maple Leafs ready to roll for training camp after off-season of change
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews speaks to the media during the opening day of their NHL training camp in Toronto, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 20, 2023 9:26PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 20, 2023 9:26PM EDT
TORONTO - Brad Treliving wasn't on the hunt for a new job.
His wife, however, was starting to nudge him in that direction after he parted ways with the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons as general manager.
“When you're in this for a while ... you talk to a lot of guys that get some time off and they say, 'Oh it's the greatest thing getting some time off,”' Treliving said. “Then you get some time off. After about three weeks my wife said there was a 'Help Wanted' sign at a coffee shop near our place.
“She took an application and passed it along to me.”
Nothing against barista life, but a more appealing employment opportunity - and one better suited to his skillset - would soon open up when the Maple Leafs fired Kyle Dubas after a stunning stretch in late May that came on the heels of Toronto's first taste of playoff success in nearly two decades.
Treliving jumped at the chance to be GM of the Original Six franchise, and after a busy summer with a long to-do list, the 54-year-old is ready for Toronto to finally hit the ice at training camp.
“You're wired to do it,” he said of being an NHL executive as players reported for testing and medicals ahead of Thursday's practice sessions. “When I left Calgary there was no master plan. Fortunately enough, this opportunity came available.”
Treliving ran with it.
He remade the forward group by adding grit and skill with Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, along with the bruising presence of enforcer Ryan Reaves.
The GM also went to work on a contract extension for Auston Matthews that included getting on a plane and flying to Arizona to meet with the star centre before coming to terms on a deal that ties the former 60-goal man to the Leafs through 2027-28.
Treliving, who still needs to get a deal done with William Nylander before the forward hits unrestricted free agency next summer, then re-upped head coach and Dubas loyalist Sheldon Keefe through 2025-26.
“One of the things I'm most excited about today is the chance to be here and focus on what we're doing,” said Keefe, who also now has defenceman John Klingberg at his disposal. “And not have to look back or think much about what's happened.
“It's a new team and a new group.”
Toronto's talented core was close with Dubas.
They shared the misery of the organization's string of recent playoff failures, and basked in the glow of moving on in the post-season for the first time since 2004 when the Leafs bested the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring.
A bizarre stretch followed their second-round exit to the Florida Panthers that ended with Dubas, now president and GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, out and Treliving under Toronto's intense microscope.
“Bit surprising at the time,” Matthew said. “(Treliving's) been great at communicating and expressing his beliefs and his expectations for ourselves and the team.”
Tavares said it was difficult to see Dubas go, but everyone has moved on.
“Kyle was here for a long time,” he said. “Tremendous impact on me.”
“We play for everyone that's supporting our team,” Marner added. “(Something) like that happens, you sometimes feel that you could have done more.”
Keefe, who had long conversations with Treliving before his contract was extended, saw the work ethic of his new boss first-hand in recent months.
“Any general manager, they put in lots of hours,” he said. “Tre's from out west, but he's been here all summer long grinding away ... often in a dark and quiet (practice) facility. On weekends when nothing's going on, you get a call from him or you happen to pop in for a different reason.
“You think the place is empty, but he's upstairs grinding away.”
Now the games are just over the horizon.
“I'm fortunate because of the work of the people that were here before me, that have put this team in a good spot,” Treliving said. “(And) fortunate because of that group of players that are focused on a goal. As much as it's an opportunity, I've got a responsibility to them and to this market.
“It's something I don't take lightly.”
MUZZIN OUT, MURRAY SET FOR SURGERY
Treliving announced Jake Muzzin (neck) won't play this season. The news didn't come as a surprise after the 34-year-old defenceman suited up just four times in 2022-23.
The GM also said goaltender Matt Murray is slated for “significant surgery” next week. Treliving wouldn't discuss the nature of the injury or procedure, citing the 29-year-old's privacy. He added it's unclear if Murray will play this season.
WILLIE IN THE MIDDLE
Nylander has spent the vast majority of his Leafs career on the wing, but he will get a shot at centre during camp.
“Not something we have given a whole lot of runway,” Keefe said. “It's not going to be a one-off ... we want to give it some time to come together, just to see what that looks like.”
MARNER DECLINES TO TALK BABCOCK
Mike Babcock resigned as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets over the weekend after just two months on the job, and less than a week after his requests for personal photos from players' phones in an effort to bond drew criticism as too invasive.
A report surfaced after the Leafs fired Babcock in 2019 that he had asked Marner to rank the effort level of teammates. The Stanley Cup-winning bench boss then shared that with the team.
Other former players have expressed dissatisfaction with Babcock, who at one time was considered the game's best coach thanks to a resume that also includes two Olympic gold medals.
Marner was asked Wednesday if Babcock ever requested to see his phone or share pictures.
“I don't really want to comment on that too much,” Marner said. “Whatever happened, happened. It's back in the day with me. He's not with our team anymore.
“My focus is on the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club and who we have around us as human beings.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.